Angels. Mine waste. Cage fighting. These are among the subjects artists explore in Pittsburgh Now, a show at SPACE Gallery. The exhibit is an intriguing window into contemporary, largely conceptual work by locally based artists. Yet it's also a show that could use more of a sense of context.
The first in a planned series of survey exhibitions, curated by Murray Horne of Wood Street Galleries, features work by seven artists: Angelo Ciotti, Lowry Burgess, Deborah Hosking, Philip Rostek, George Lipchak, Steve O'Hearn and Renee Rosensteel.
The show reflects a distinct collection of diverse processes and styles. Rostek's wall-mounted assemblages fuse natural materials with painting and drawing. Several pieces possess a mystical quality; Rostek's bio references angels and saints from boyhood visits to Catholic church. Environmental artist Ciotti, meanwhile, uses material found at mining sites, and stories -- collected from women -- of loved ones lost to industrial accidents. He grows vegetation on the mine waste, and photographs the "reclamation," or re-birth, of the sites.
Hosking's "One Hand Clapping" is a series of photographs, or "little eye poems" as she calls them, mostly of street scenes -- images, she writes, of "momentary meditation." Hosking's contribution feels poetic, a narrative unfolding, about the everyday, everywhere, things we see, repeatedly, but usually fail to notice. The more than 100 images, some humorous, some provocative, others just beautiful, cause you to pause, take a second look and appreciate the moment. Hoskings distributes the images by e-mail, so the viewer can save each one or delete and move on to the next moment.
"Circle of Truth" comprises Rosensteel's paradoxically poignant documentary photographs of extreme fighting, also known as mixed martial arts. It feels quite different from most of the work in the show. Menacing and raw, this composite of seductive images is hard to look at -- but you can't look away, either. Rosensteel is clearly an insider; there's a sense of trust, not judgment. Rosensteel, a photojournalist (and the spouse of City Paper arts editor Bill O'Driscoll), is a former fighter who has since been stage-managing fight events. Her passion for the sport is clear in her close-up action shots and portraits. Her images bring you ringside, where you can see the intensity of the moment. She beautifully captures something many regard as grotesque, with rare beauty.
O'Hearn's sculptural work with a theatrical flair --he's a co-founder of performance-art musical group Squonk Opera -- adds some dimension and a bit of sarcastic humor to the show. One strangely humorous piece, a lengthy, wall-mounted horizontal array of human teeth, is called "9 Smiles (without lips) for Curators." A metaphor for the pandering required of artists?
Yet while the works are individually interesting, as a whole this collection lacks context. Why these artists, to embody "Pittsburgh Now"? Why this work? As the series continues, a curatorial statement, or even labels that are more descriptive, might help give a real sense of Pittsburgh's contemporary art scene.
Pittsburgh Now continues through June 13. SPACE gallery, 812 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 412-325-7723.